The Evolving Definition of 'Healthy'

                                                                              The Food Re-evolution Model

The Food Re-evolution Model

When approaching food marketing and innovation, we talk a great deal about meeting demand for foods that are 'healthier'.  Throughout this process, we often refer to 'healthy' food with an underlying assumption that those we are communicating with share a mutual understanding about we mean.

But do they?  

Just as fashion changes over time (I no longer wear my leg warmers from the '80's as exercise gear, for example), so too do the beliefs consumers hold about what they perceive 'healthy food' to be. While changes associated with individual nutrients, ingredients or foods make up our year on year 'trends' these tend to come and go, What we are experiencing right now however is a fundamental shift in the elements that are influencing consumer perceptions about what healthy food really is.

Layer Upon Layer
While in the past we may have referred to healthy food as 'low in fat' or 'high in fibre', it's no longer that simple.  Consumers are smarter and Datamonitor expects single nutrient claims to all but disappear by 2020. 

We're moving from a nutrient focus, to one that is much broader in context. This is already evident in the shifting focus on ingredients, the desire for 'clean' labels, more real and natural foods, and the influence of the degree of processing a food has undergone over-riding its nutritional value as a deciding factor in how healthy it is perceived to be.  This evolution will continue to incorporate additional elements that will influence perceptions of health in the future. The various layers of influence are depicted in the above diagram.

To remain relevant and to create meaningful connections with consumers, it will be critical to understand how each of these layers influence perceptions of health across individual products and categories, and to strategically integrate each into marketing and innovation strategies.  

To develop a strategy that genuinely meets consumer demand for 'healthy' food, consider broadening your approach, becoming an expert in your category, and evaluating and understanding each layer.  Here are some starting considerations relevant to each layer:

Nutrients - Start here and Build
Does your product contain key nutritional elements that are yet to be highlighted? If you are unsure, the first step is to dig a little deeper and find out.  The next step is to consider how you can communicate these benefits in a meaningful way.

Ingredients - The Quality of the Recipe Counts
What ingredients are present that contribute to good health? Can these be highlighted? What targets may you set around ingredients to remove or replace?

Food - The Whole is Better than the Parts
If your product is a whole food, what unique benefits does it bring? If it is a mixed product, what whole food ingredients can be highlighted or added?

Food system - Look Back to Look Forwards
Can you communicate where your food comes from and how it is made? Are there opportunities for greater sharing and education that demonstrates how the food system sitting behind your product contributes to its health credentials?

Food and ecology - The Context Matters
How does the way your food is produced support a positive food environment, and how does it support social and cultural aspects of food and eating?


Thinking full circle and addressing each of the layers that contribute to consumer perceptions about how healthy a food is provides a significant number of opportunities for differentiation and the creation of a meaningful brand and an authentic and trusted corporate or industry voice.  The arrow to the right of the model indicates that if we continue to focus on just nutrients and ingredients, we are addressing just a fraction of what can be said about food.  For those looking for future relevance, the target is to hit 100%.

Further details around the above concepts and how they can assist your business prepare for the future, can be found in my new book Food for a Better Future. Pre-order your copy here

Hear me speak on this topic in September at Innovate & Excite: Acting Today to Advance Tomorrow, AIFST Convention 2018. For further details go here.